Jamie Stanton: success at a young age

Jamie Stanton, the 24-year-old British filmmaker shooting the short film Four Brothers, in Cayman this month, has achieved some impressive qualifications in his brief time in the film industry.

Filmmaker Jamie Stanton at work

Filmmaker Jamie Stanton at work, shooting in South Sound recently. Photo: Patrick Broderick

Originally a session drummer, while studying for his Bachelor’s degree in Music Technology at the University of Bath, Mr. Stanton discovered a love for film.

‘[O]ne of the modules [of my Music Technology programme] was in post-production sound, which we had to do on a short film that someone had made,’ Mr. Stanton explained. ‘I just remember thinking, one, it looked like really good fun and [the director’s] job looked like a lot of fun and two, that what she had done wasn’t particularly fantastic and maybe I could have a go and do it a little bit better.’

From there, he made his first short film, which he dismisses as ‘rubbish’, but he found he loved the filmmaking process.

‘I thought I’d try again – at that point I had left university and was trying to work out what I’d do next – so I thought I’d send [my second film] off to a film school and see what happened,’ he said.

What happened was that the London Film Academy came knocking. An interview later, the school offered him a full scholarship.

‘That was incredible, so I took it and went there for a year … I was hooked,’ he said. He admits it was difficult for his family to adjust to the sudden change in his direction, however.

‘It was really bizarre for my family. When I was at university I was all about music and in two months I went from being a drummer to having a film school scholarship,’ he said, adding that he had not told anyone about his filmmaking hobby ‘because it seemed like kind of a silly thing to be doing’.

Sweet success

His graduation film, Undead Union: The Making Of…, has ‘inexplicably done really well’, Mr. Stanton said with his usual modesty.

The film showed at the London Short Film Festival, The British Film Institute’s Eat My Shorts – a festival dedicated to showcasing Britain’s brightest young directors – and Cannes Film Festival and Strasbourg, both in France.

His talent was not just in directing, however. Having penned his films’ scripts, he also wrote a script during the screenwriting module of his film course. The Italian director Alice Caronna turned his screenplay into the film Into the Light, which won the Golden Palm award at the Mexico International Film Festival.

‘All the little films I have made are comedy films. That’s always been my thing, but Into the Light was my first proper script that I wrote that was a bit more serious, a bit more dramatic and weighty,’ said Mr. Stanton.

Inspiration for his scripts and films tends to come from life experiences, he explained.

‘I certainly haven’t written anything fantastical; what I write tends to be based or grounded in reality, so things that happen to me or that I hear about or read in the newspaper that are actually happening,’ he said. ‘But at the same time there is a tendency, in Britain especially, for films to be quite dark. There’s lots of films about gangs and violence and I much prefer to write about nicer things or at least make my films more pleasant and happier.’

Finding it difficult to assign a genre to Four Brothers, the director explained that ‘there is some comedy in this script but it’s more as a release from the otherwise dramatic elements, so I guess it’s a bit of a drama.

‘There’s not really a genre to fit it in – I guess a coming-of-age story or rite-of-passage story.’ He likened the film to one of his favourites, Stand by Me, which follows a group of young boys embarking on an adventure, just as his latest script does.

As for directors whose work he emulates, Mr. Stanton listed a few well-known names in the industry.

‘I really like Gus Van Sant of Good Will Hunting and Juno, which Jason Reitman directed, and Little Miss Sunshine [directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris]. Those are the films I’ve seen recently that I really like. Of course, Spielberg and Hitchcock and the usual big names [are also influences],’ he added.

Four Brothers

Despite a lengthy pre-production schedule, shooting is nearly complete for the 10-minute-long Four Brothers.

‘We shot about 40 per cent of the film just the other day and it’s a bit weird that you spend all of this time planning and just like that it’s done and you have to hope that you got what you needed,’ he said. ‘Shooting is kind of a whirlwind and is almost over before it’s started.

‘Preproduction definitely takes the longest time; you have the idea and then you start writing and auditioning… It doesn’t work how you think it’s going to work and most of your time is spent actually writing emails.’

Many of those emails were addressed to Rita Estevanovich, programmes manager at the Cayman National Cultural Foundation, and Henry Muttoo, artistic director of the Foundation. Mr. Stanton was able to use the Foundation’s assistance in setting up auditions with local boys.

‘Jamie made contact with Henry sometime around Christmas 2008,’ said Ms Estevanovich. ‘[H]e maintained communication and contacted me at the end of July. I got in touch with some of the boys I had worked with in Foundation programmes such as Gimistory and Isabel! Many of them had had some acting experience, but most had never experienced acting for film.’

Last month, Ms Estevanovich auditioned boys on two Sundays, narrowing down the pool for the director to audition at the end of the month when he arrived on Island.

‘In total, seven boys auditioned through Cayman National Cultural Foundation and two more auditioned for Jamie after our auditions were held,’ Ms Estevanovich said.

Mr. Stanton chose local photographer Patrick Broderick as the short’s director of photography.

The pair have known each other for a long time and admire each other’s work.

‘I’ve known Jamie for years and met him through his uncle Dr. Stephen Pickering,’ Mr. Broderick said.

‘We did a scout of the Cayman Islands last year and had a general script. This allowed me to get ideas for various locations, which could lend themselves to the storyline.’

Mr. Broderick is no stranger to film work and has worked as a film scout for other productions.

‘I think one of the challenges in working on Four Brothers is that since it is a short, we have had to get the story across without the luxury of stretching out as you can in a feature film.

‘The elements and emotions of the story have a much tighter time frame to evolve in.’

The director of photography is pleased with the level of support that the short has garnered locally. He put much of the help down to the fact that ‘Cayman still retains something of warmth and charm’.

The future

Aside from his own film projects, the filmmaker and former university classmate, Liam Tate, have set up a production company called TeaandCheese.

‘We had been making some short animated films and entering them into competitions,’ Mr. Stanton said, adding that while Mr. Tate has the animation experience, he is in charge of production and writing.

The duo have just finished a pitch for an animated television show for Comedy Central and MTV.

‘We’re involved with a production company based in Los Angeles called Ten Worlds Productions and we’re just waiting to hear back right now,’ he said. ‘They wanted a South Park-type thing, so that’s kind of what we went for.’

If all works out, Mr. Stanton hopes that TeaandCheese will soon be busy working on a pilot.

He wants to take time off to focus on and ‘get more into’ writing. Mr. Stanton’s immediate future, however, revolves around Four Brothers.

‘Hopefully I’ll go back to England with a film that most people don’t get to see every day,’ he said. ‘I hope this is a breath of fresh air and gets some attention; that would be nice.’

A free question and answer session with Jamie Stanton will take place this Saturday, 26 September at 10am to 11.30am. Hosted by the Cayman Islands Film Commission, the session is open to all who have an interest in the film industry, and guests will learn a little about the short film process and get ideas for the distribution of their own projects via film festivals like Cannes.

The session is being held in the Cayman Islands Investment Bureau boardroom on the first floor of the TeleCayman building on Hospital Road.